Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.
For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!
Most people know Eddie Bauer as a clothing company that competes with L.L. Bean for the "sporty" look. But there was a time when Bauer was a full service trade house that sold a bunch of marked fishing tackle.
The company was founded in 1920 as Eddie Bauer's Sport Shop in Seattle, Washington. Bauer, the son of Russian immigrants, was a dedicated outdoorsman who began the company largely as a place to string tennis racquets. Having grown up on Orcas Island, he cut his teeth in the sporting goods business by working at nearby Piper & Taft, where he learned everything from rodmaking to gunsmithing to tying flies.
Very early on the firm was a success, in part because he offered an unconditional guarantee of satisfaction beginning in 1922. He renamed the store Eddie Bauer's Sporting Goods in 1924, and began offering his famous line of Bauer hunting and fishing clothing in 1936.
An interesting fact about Bauer is that during World War II, he manufacture over 25,000 flight suits and 250,000 down sleeping bags for the Army Air Corp to use in the Aleutian Islands campaign. All of these items contained the Eddie Bauer label on them, and it is believed these were the only war production items manufactured for the government to carry the maker's name. The most famous, of course, were the B-9 Flight Parkas, known as the Bomber Jacket.
In 1945, Bauer began mail order catalogs, which helped vault the firm to national prominence. In 1953, Eddie brought in William F. Niemi as a 50-50 partner, and when he retired in 1968 he sold out his shares to Niemi, who incorporated that year as Eddie Bauer, Inc. Niemi then turned around and sold the company to General Mills, Inc. in 1971, who held the firm until 1988 when it was purchased by the German mail order company Spiegel, Inc.
Today, most people know Eddie Bauer for its fly fishing tackle, and the company still maintains a presence even today in the field. But the company sold a full line of fishing tackle beginning in 1924 (he sold his own tied flies before this), and some of it was branded with their name. An especially neat product was the Eddie Bauer R-6 Salmon Plug, manufactured for them by Rosegard. These are really rare and valuable lures and sell for good money when they come to market.
Of course, the firm also sold a lot of rods and reels. Here's a neat marked Eddie Bauer 8' fiberglass fly rod manufactured by the great J. Kennedy Fisher company of California.
There are a lot of other marked Bauer tackle items. Early flies on cards are sometimes found, and some of these would have been tied by Eddie Bauer himself. Occasionally an Eddie Bauer fly reel will be found in an original box. And sometimes items like the Mepps Killer 6-Pack pictured below will be found bearing the Bauer name.
Today, the company is worth nearly $2 billion and has stores in every state in the union. It is a true monolithic enterprise, but it started as just another tackle shop founded by a Russian immigrant's son selling flies and tackle to the Seattle sporting set. We should celebrate Eddie Bauer's continued success!
-- Dr. Todd